Don't Fence Me In
Hot Docs: Music Lessons
I can do nothing but praise this documentary. It was short, sweet and to the point. It also was unexpectedly very emotional. Especially for someone like myself with a music background who perhaps in getting older has forgotten the power music can have on youth. It really tore away at my cynicism and that is not easily done!
Directed by Michael Mabbot, Music Lessons is about the development and impact of El Sistema, a music program used at Yorkwoods Public School located in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area. The program gives opportunity to under privileged youth to receive up to 10 hours a week of free music lessons in classical string instruments such as the violin and cello and in the classical music genre.
It was amazing to see these marginalized kids play instruments that you typically only see upper middle class kids play. As a musician, there are generalizations in the industry made about people who play in every kind of genre. Rockers are usually working class drinkers, Hip Hop artists usually smoke weed, Electronic artists usually do coke, and the folks who play string instruments were rich nerds. That spells out privilege and obviously that privilege gives access to fancy (and costly) string instruments and lessons but mainly, classically trained musicians seem to come from a specific societal culture so to speak, namely, conservative families.
A thought that kept ringing through my head in watching this was that as much as there is a sort of elitism to the world of classical music, there is also a distancing and mocking of it by working class and the marginalized. It’s a type of music that we are taught to believe is for snobs while on the other side of the coin, those who want to keep it inaccessible treat it like a private country club believing that the music should be kept just that, classical. They don’t want the music tainted by outside influences. That is why the classical genre, in my humble opinion, went from being brilliant in it’s early days, to never really developing within itself to become something more revolutionary, like rock n’ roll has for example. If you want to know what I’m talking about, go out and find a great little movie called Crossroads starting Ralph Machio to see what I mean.
The most beautiful moments in this film were in listening to the answers the children gave about how music made them feel. You could feel the connection they had to the music and to themselves and it was obvious that the impact was doing something to their sense of self and confidence. Tamika, age 10 said “It makes me feel free from my surroundings. It makes me block out all of my misery.” She later tells us how she has many personalities, and about her love for Kurt Cobain. That to me is what this program could do. Meaning, it can take people from the world of loving the grunge of Nirvana and place a violin in their hands where they can extend those influences into a genre of music that historically would not allow itself to evolve.
Well, I think it’s time for that to change and I think this film shows the beginning of how a classical music revolution is on it’s way if more children are given access to it.
Music Lessons screening at Toronto’s Hot Docs – Isabel Bader TheatreTue, Apr 28 6:30 PM
About the Author
Lucas Silveira is best known as the front man, songwriter and founding member of the rock band *The Cliks. *Lucas has become a leading force in the LGBTQ community for the promotion and visibility of transgender people in the mainstream music industry. He is the first out transgender male to be signed to a major record label deal and has toured with music icons including Cyndi Lauper, The Cult, Debbie Harry and The New York Dolls.